I am currently having an issue with someone I know in that every time we debate about a single item, and he knows that he's wrong, he will turn it into a kind of broad-spectrum topic and then we start debating metaphysics or something completely unrelated to the original topic. He's taken philosophy and I haven't and I feel unequipped to counter his points when I know that I made a pretty established argument. It's driving me nuts.

For example, i'll say that subject "A" is a fact and has been proven by science (gravity for example). To me, the existence of gravity is a hard fact and demonstrable. However, he'll counter with something like "well it's only a fact to what humans can percieve, there's nothing that says the next time I throw a ball in the air it won't keep going up."

The problem I'm having is, well, I have to concede it's true; that is incredibly unlikely but he just ruined my argument that gravity is a fact by basically saying that in the vastness of the universe and how we can't predict everything and haven't seen EVERYTHING it's not %100. It's 99.99999%. so he uses that little bit as leverage, then dismisses it as subject to human error.

Basically he relies heavily on the idea that humans are ignorant and he thinks it's silly that scientists claim to know things when none of it is absolutely 100% which is true, that there is so much out there in the universe and reality that it's foolish to predict things, we can NEVER know everything and we never will, so to him absolutely everything falls under the label of "only applies as humans percieve it" opening the argument up to the idea that there are different sciences and maths out there and ways of doing things completely unknown to us and unlike anything on earth which again COULD be possible.

My stance is that science does and can prove things, and that the wild assertions like his are a) not useful to guess at, and b) so unlikely that it's absurd to suggest otherwise based on hard evidence and c) that since I am a human and I care about humanity I value the perspective of humans more than anything else because it applies directly to me and my entire race--AKA the only percievers that matter at this time. But he keeps making these crazy refutations of again for example somehting as solid as gravity, and then basically says that humans are too stupid to know anything for sure and because of that he doesn't have to accept that gravity exists.

Can someone please explain to me what the technical terms are for our opposing views? And perhaps link me some methods that I can use ammunition agaisnt his mode of thought? I'm not stupid enough to completely dismiss his idea but it's just too unlikely and not a useful way of thinking to me. I honestly think he uses this as a sort of scapegoat to get out of conceding to my arguments which is not fair. I heard it's called epistomology or something like that? Basically I'm more of the "there are established truths" mode of thought. Like I claim to know that 2+2=4 but then rather than jsut agreeing he'll counter with something rediculous like "well math doesn't actually exist and heres why "..... etc etc. and then becomes an argument about the existence of math and language and I have to justify my answer by proving that math exists! totally avoiding the essence of the argument witch was that 2+2 does in fact equal 4.

  • If he annoys you that much, why don't you just say that you're not interested as soon as he makes a point like this?
    – user2953
    Sep 3, 2016 at 6:28
  • This is called Moving the Goalposts. Your friend is elevating the standards of the argument from pragmatic claims to strict epistemological ones. The solution is to clarify beforehand what degree of certainty you're aiming for (and if he insists on a strict epistemological bar, point out how crippling that is).
    – commando
    Sep 3, 2016 at 14:16

2 Answers 2


You cannot defeat him because you are insisting in something that is not correct.

Gravity is not a "fact". Gravity is a theory. It happens to be a theory that satisfactorily explains most observable facts (or, more precisely, most of the observable facts that it seeks to explain). You don't need it to be a fact; actually, you would be ontologically degrading it by considering it a fact.

More generally, science does not "prove" things, or at least this is not its central endeavour. Science strives to provide explanations for observable phenomena ("facts"), if possible in a way that becomes predictive. You don't "prove" that matter attracts matter in direct proportion to mass and in inverse proportion to the square of distance. You use that hypothesis to predict the behaviour of physical bodies; as long as its predictions are correct, the theory remains unchallenged. It is not "proved"; however, and the intention of science is not to prove it. If its predictions fail, ie, if it cannot predict the "facts" correctly, then it has to be ammended, or, if its failures are big enough, it is refuted. Science strives to refute its own theories, not to prove them: it systematically seeks the "deviant" facts that would refute them, and only maintain its theories as long as it isn't able to find those facts.

Naturally, what your opponent seems to be doing is to use these correct points to defend a position that is basically solipsism. That his argumentation is in bad faith can be demonstrated by the fact that he doesn't live by it. He knows that our knowledge, provisional as it is, is working knowledge. He knows he shouldn't drink the hemlock, jump from a window at the seventh floor, cross the street without looking both sides, or bet on Red Socks, and he abides by this knowledge. So he, himself, refutes his own points: while they may be "correct" in a completely abstract way, concretely he knows better and behaves as if he didn't believe in them.

  • 1
    (+1) To your last paragraph, the friend could answer that he's just behaving as humans do because his species evolved over a time when the laws of gravity, chemistry etc. were not suspended, or were only briefly and infrequently suspended. Even if there's only a fifty percent chance the laws of chemistry will take effect when you drink hemlock, it's still a very reckless thing to do. Sep 4, 2016 at 18:45
  • @Tim kinsella - True, but then why would we have evolved like that ? After all, evolution supposes some relation to the external world. Sep 17, 2022 at 14:23

If you can't beat them join them. Don't argue with an idiot, they drag you down to your level and beat you with experience. =)

Those two come to mind for me.

Essentially you are trying to convince him that you are right and are upset that you are not succeeding.

The question would be. Does it matter if you are right? And if you are right, does that automatically mean that he is wrong? And even if that is true. What does that prove?

Yes you can relativize everything. I'm good at doing that also. His argument about everything being subjective is true. Your argument about science being able to prove things is true also.

Still do you know how science proves things? By experiment. By observing what happens. Which in itself is subjective. So I guess I win.

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